Papa Report #5


Publication of PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY!
Robert E.: Ulysses, Abe, and I celebrate the publication of PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY on June 7.

Front Royal, Virginia:

Front Royal, VA -- June 19, 2001 -- The first stop on the PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY tour was this past Saturday, June 19, at Front Royal, Virginia. This charming little town was founded in the mid-1700's as one of the main routes over the Blue Ridge Mountains into the western part of Virginia. Many of the houses in the center of town have been standing for over one hundred and fifty years. Their Victorian architecture gives Front Royal a certain air -- as if you have stepped back into time. Photo: Mary and me on the Village Commons at Front Royal, Virginia, on a very rainy and misty day.

Stonewall Jackson and the Battle of Front Royal, VA:

In fact, it looks very much the way it did when Lee's right-hand man, General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, routed a Federal force from the town on May 23, 1862. This Battle of Front Royal marked the beginning of Jackson's famous Valley of Virginia Campaign. Photo: A painting of the Village Commons at Front Royal, Virginia.

Belle Boyd:

The general was aided by the reports of the South's most famous and beautiful spy, Miss Belle Boyd. By the war's end, Belle was known as the "pride of the Southern solider, the admiration of Northern firesides, and the toast of the British Empire." Photo: Belle Boyd.

Belle was just seventeen years old when her parents sent her to stay with her uncle and aunt in Front Royal in the summer of 1861. Belle's parents thought Belle would be safe from the war there. But the war came to Front Royal. Belle's aunt and uncle owned the Fishback Hotel on historic Chester Street -- the oldest section of Front Royal. In the Spring of 1862, Federal forces occupied the town.

The Fishback Hotel was used as the headquarters of the Union commanding officer, General James Shields. Photo: General James Sheilds.

One evening, Shields held a council of war in the hotel's front parlor. Belle hid herself in a bedroom closet above the parlor, and for hours she listened to the general's plans through a knothole in the closet floor. When Belle heard the Federal garrison planned to move out of Front Royal, leaving only a small rear guard, she knew she should alert General Jackson whom she knew was camped some twenty miles away.

She quietly returned to the little cottage at the rear of the hotel that was her home while in Front Royal. She carefully wrote out the Federal plans on thin paper, then hid her message inside a silver pocket watch. Belle had removed the watch's works for just this secret purpose. Then she tiptoed out to the stable, where she saddled her horse. Belle rode off into the night. After traveling fifteen miles in the dark, she reached the campsite of the Confederate Cavalry commander, General Turner Ashby, who carried her message to Jackson. Dawn's light found Belle back in her bed, sound asleep after her midnight ride. Photo: General Turner Ashby.

On the basis of Belle's message, Jackson decided to attack Front Royal. Several days later, Jackson's skirmishers met the Federal pickets outside the town. Hearing the gunfire, Belle realized Jackson had come. She wanted to make sure the general would know Front Royal was still lightly defended. Throwing caution to the wind, she mounted her horse. Even though Belle was dressed in a bright blue dress with a white apron, she brazenly rode out to encourage Jackson, making herself an obvious target. The Federals opened fire on her as she swept through their lines but all the bullets missed. When the Confederate soldiers saw her coming, they cheered her courage with loud Rebel yells. Belle told a young Confederate officer to give her message to General Jackson. "Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all," she said.

Jackson didn't hesitate but sent his troops into the town. Later that evening, from his new headquarters inside Front Royal, Stonewall sent Belle his note of gratitude: "I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service you have rendered your country today. I am your friend. -- TJ Jackson, CSA." Photo: General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

Belle's spying exploits didn't stop there. During the course of the Civil War, she continued gathering information for the Rebels, becoming the sensation of both North and South. Many newspapers on both sides likened the beautiful young woman to Joan of Arc. General Jackson formally commissioned her as a Captain in the Confederate army and his honorary aide. This was a rare favor from the usually dour general. Belle's spying activities were "reported" in Federal military dispatches thirty times. She was arrested six times by the Federal authorities and imprisoned twice. Each time, she charmed her captors and managed to escape. Before the end of the war, she fled to England where she lived until after the South's surrender in April, 1865.

After the war Belle traveled all over the United States giving lectures on her adventures. She died in Wisconsin in 1900, at the age of fifty-six, and was buried with full military honors by her one-time enemies. Today, her grave is cared for by the American Legion.

Launch of the PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY Book Signing Tour:

Belle Boyd's little white cottage in Front Royal was right next door to the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum (95 Chester Street) where Mary launched her PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY book signing tour. Photo: Mary signing books while I smooze with the crowd.

Mary and I were the special guests at the annual Convention of the Virginia Division of the Children of the Confederacy, the youth group sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a historical and genealogical organization.

Meet a PAPA Granddaugther -- Mrs. Margaret Foltz:
Over seventy-five people attended the event, including Mrs. Margaret Foltz and her family. Mrs. Foltz is the granddaughter of Private John Altaffer, Company H, 12th Virginia Cavalry, CSA. Private Altaffer is one of the fathers whose story is told in PAPA WAS A BOY IN GRAY. It was a very special meeting for us!

Robert E. Goes Home with Suzanne Foltz:

Mary gave the keynote speech about the Virginia soldiers in her book. Then she signed and sold all the copies she had with her. Suzanne Foltz, Altaffer's great-granddaughter, fell in love with me! I was so honored! At the end of the afternoon, Mary presented one of my brothers to Suzanne as a memento! This was very special because Private John Altaffer had the exact same birthday, as did Robert E. Lee -- January 19! Photo: Mary and Suzanne Foltz, great-granddaughter of Private John Altaffer, 12th Virginia cavalry, CSA. He is one of the PAPAs. One of my brothers went home with Suzanne.

Next Stop!
The launch of the PAPA tour was very successful. Mary and I fly back to Illinois, to finish our stay in the Midwest. Next stop on the book tour will be Waldenbooks in Springfield Mall, Virginia, on June 30.

Ulysses: Meanwhile, my report on Grant's Farm in Saint Louis is coming up.

Sacagawea: So is my report on the Lewis and Clark Trail, the discovery of the Mississippi, the strange Piasa Bird, and the Cahokia Indian Mounds.

Abe: So keep watching this space for lots more interesting things to come. America is truly a Land of Wonders.


Papa Was A Boy in Gray Book Tour

with Prize-Winning author Mary w. Schaller


Report #5 from Robert E.: June 21, 2001

Dispatches from Front Royal, VA